I began shopping for my first car back in 2015, specifically eyeing a 1980s BMW. Fortunately, at that time, it was quite easy to find excellent examples of E28s and E30s for well under $5,000. Convincing my parents to let me purchase such an old car proved difficult, especially when newer cars, like an E46 3 Series, were available for a similar price.

Despite this, I proceeded with the purchase and have enjoyed E30 ownership ever since. I would love to recommend E30s to everyone as a first car; however, it’s not 2015 anymore. Gone are the days of finding E36 M3s for $6k, E28 535i models for $4k, and E30s for $3k. Even parts for these cars have become significantly more expensive. Many older BMWs have surged in price over the past decade, placing them beyond the reach of many new drivers. Fortunately, BMW continued producing enjoyable cars; there are still numerous newer BMWs that are affordable and fun to drive.

E46 3 Series  – Price: $4,500-$12,000

Choosing an E46 is a no-brainer. These cars are incredibly fun to drive, a fact well known to enthusiasts. Twenty-five years after their debut, E46s have appreciated in value but remain accessible to new drivers in the US. Every variant we received, from the 323i to the 330i, featured  six-cylinders. The powertrains were updated in 2001 from the M52TU, replacing the 323i/328i with the M54-powered 325i/330i. The sedan received a LCI (life cycle impulse) in 2002, introducing an updated front end, taillights, and minor changes throughout, while the coupe and convertible received these updates a year later.

Preferences vary among enthusiasts; some, like myself, prefer the pre-LCI models, others the LCI, and some have no preference. Any model you choose won’t disappoint. Prices fluctuate greatly, largely depending on condition. Beaters are available for under $3,000, but daily drivers start closer to $5,000 and escalate from there. For those seeking the pinnacle of non-M E46s, the 330i ZHP exists, albeit at a higher cost.

E82/E88 1 Series – Price: $6,000-$15,000

BMW launched the 1 Series Hatch in ’04, which wasn’t offered in the states, and the coupe and convertible versions we received debuted in 2008 in either 128i or 135i configurations. The 128i retained the N52 throughout its production run, but the N54 in the 135i was superseded by the N55 in 2010. The 128i, ideal for budget-conscious buyers, can be found for $6k-$7k in good condition. Those seeking more power might consider the N55-powered 135i or 135iS. Due to the tuning potential and power of BMW’s turbocharged cars, a 135i demands a premium over a 128i, with clean examples exceeding $10k.

The 1 Series, being 9 inches shorter than a 3 Series coupe, still shares much of the architecture, such as the rear and front suspension, as well as engines. It boasts excellent hydraulic power steering and served as the basis for the legendary 1M. It’s an excellent choice for those desiring an E36 or E46 but preferring something newer. Its design is sufficiently modern while retaining the feel and dimensions of classic BMWs.

E60 5 Series 525i/528i/530i – Price: $4,000-$8,000

Designed by Davide Arcangeli, the E60 divided opinions at its launch in 2004 with its “Dame Edna” headlights and substantial rear. It marked a significant departure from the conservatively styled E39. Two decades later, it has aged remarkably well, feeling newer than its years both inside and out. It serves as a great alternative to the E90 for those needing more space. Despite their similar weight to the E90 3 Series—thanks to extensive aluminum use in the body—E60s offer a thrilling driving experience and are available with manual transmissions.

It’s wise to avoid the V8 545i and 550i models unless frequent mechanic visits appeal to you, as well as the 535i. The 525i and 530i, equipped with the reliable M54 engine from ’04-’05, are excellent choices. In 2006, both models received the N52, a more reliable engine, making them preferable. The facelifted ’08-’10 528i also features this reliable engine. For those in colder climates, xDrive versions are available, though they sacrifice some RWD fun. Prices for 525i/28i/30i models are consistent, determined by condition and mileage, ranging from $4,000 to $8,000.

Z3 – Price: $5,000-$10,000

For those needing only two seats, the Z3 is a compelling option. Its combination of a convertible top, manual transmission, sub-3K curb weight, and a melodious straight-six engine offers an unbeatable driving experience. Unveiled in 1995 as the Z1’s successor, it was based on the E36 3 Series, utilizing the codenames E36/7 for the roadster and E36/8 for the coupe, though it retained the semi-trailing arm rear suspension from the E30—a plus for those who enjoy drifting. Initially, it was available with either the M44 1.9 4 Cylinder or M52 2.8 I6, with a 1999 update introducing the M52TU 2.3 and 2.8 6 Cylinders.

This update also brought an LCI, featuring revised exterior styling and numerous minor changes. In 2001, another update replaced the M52TU 2.3 and 2.8 with the M54-powered 2.5i and 3.0i. All six-cylinder variants are exhilarating to drive, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Aim for a well-maintained example and avoid the four-cylinder models unless you’re seeking a driving experience akin to an “overweight Miata.” Expect to spend $6,500-$7,500 for a solid Z3, with the price varying based on condition and mileage.

E84 X1 Price: $8,000-$13,000

The X1 debuted in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2013 that it arrived in the states, coinciding with a refresh that included replacing the RWD xDrive28i’s hydraulic power steering rack with an electric one. However, both AWD X1 xDrive28i and xDrive35i models retained the hydraulic steering.

Sharing its platform with the E90 3 Series, the X1 even matches its wheelbase. Initially hesitant to include a crossover in this list, I reconsidered, given its dimensions: at 60.8 inches tall, it’s shorter than some large sedans, more akin to a lifted wagon than an SUV. The RWD and AWD 28i models are powered by the N20 four-cylinder, while the AWD-only 35i boasts the melodious N55 6 Cylinder. Both engines are relatively reliable, and your choice will depend on whether you prioritize extra power and the six-cylinder sound.